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Keeping the Balls in the Air

“There is so much going on… I just don’t know how I am going to keep all of the balls in the air…”

How many times have you heard yourself say this? It’s something I hear often from my many busy clients, who find themselves juggling lots of competing demands related to family, work, health, social relationships, and more. For many, it seems that as we age, life keeps tossing us more and more things to juggle–and we often have such a big collection that it seems impossible to keep from dropping some of them.

I can totally relate to this! As a wife, mom, therapist, business owner, daughter, friend, and person committed to at least reasonable self-care, I sometimes find my own collection of balls difficult to juggle.

Like many things, I think lots of us have a tendency to make this overly simplistic and binary. We view all balls as equally important, and convince ourselves that if we’re dropping any of them, we’re failing. I believe a different way of thinking about this is in order. I’m here to suggest that not all of the balls you’re trying to keep in the air are created equal, and that thinking about them differently can meaningfully change the way you juggle.

Rather than thinking of all of the balls the same way, imagine that there are three different types: balls made of rubber, balls made of clay, and balls made of glass. If they are dropped, these three different materials respond differently. Rubber balls will simply bounce. You can catch them the next time they’re coming down, or you can let them bounce to a rest and pick them up later. When you do, they will be in exactly the same condition as they were before you dropped them. Balls made of clay won’t bounce; dropping one of these will result in some change to the ball — depending on how heavy they are, they may sort of splat to the ground in a way that changes their shape. When you pick them up, they’ll be in a different condition than they were before you dropped them, but you can mold them back into their previously round shape with a little effort. Glass balls, if dropped, won’t bounce, and they won’t splat. They will shatter. Once they shatter, they are impossible to return to their original state. 

Obviously, the glass balls are the ones we must endeavor to protect the most. When multiple things are falling at once, and we can’t catch them all, we have to prioritize the glass ones–even if it is sometimes at the expense of a clay or rubber ball (or two). Where we get into trouble, often, is that we let ourselves believe that all the balls are glass balls — and therefore, of any drop as a catastrophe.

If this resonates with you, great! Your next task is to start thinking about the different “balls” that you juggle, and what each of them is made of. Try to get pretty granular about it. For example, don’t think of “kids” as one ball — that’s too broad and won’t allow you to make any distinctions between all of your different kid-related responsibilities. Instead, think about “kids’ health,” “kids’ recreation,” “quality time with kids,” “kids’ education,” etc. as different balls. Same for your job. “Work” is not just a single ball — it’s a bunch of different ones, some of which are more fragile than others. Then, when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and wondering how you’re going to get it all done, imagine all of your various balls in the air and look for the glass ones; focus your energy there, let some of the other stuff go a bit, and see how that changes your experience of yourself and your life.

You will know you’re doing this successfully when your internal voice says, “it’s OK to let that one go — it’s a rubber ball and it will bounce.” Or, “If I drop that ball, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a clay ball, and I can pick it up and fix it when I have the bandwidth to do so.”

So, which of your “balls” are rubber, clay, and glass? Sound off in the comments!

Lindsey M. Hoskins, PhD, LMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in both our downtown Bethesda, MD and Sterling, VA offices, and virtually to those located in Maryland and Virginia. Call or email today to set up a complimentary consultation or first appointment with Lindsey!